Today is Henry Cockburn’s 243rd birthday!
POSTED ON October 26, 2022 BY James Garry
Henry Thomas Cockburn of Bonaly, Lord Cockburn was a Scottish lawyer, judge, literary figure and committed conservationist for the City he loved
Henry Thomas Cockburn of Bonaly, Lord Cockburn was a Scottish lawyer, judge, literary figure and committed conservationist for the City he loved. A well-respected figure of the time, his legacy lives on today in many forms, from streets names after him to the Cockburn Association, founded in his memory to protect the amenity of this city and campaign for its improvement.
Cockburn as born on 26 October 1779 with the Old Parish Register giving his place of birth as Hope Park in Edinburgh, where his parents had a house. He died at the age of 75 at his estate in Bonaly in the Pentland Hills on 26 April 1854.
His father was Archibald Cockburn – a keen Tory, lawyer, Judge – and Sheriff of Midlothian before taking on the mantle of Baron of the Court of Exchequer. His mother Janet Rannie was connected by marriage with the influential Lord Melville (her sister was Henry Dundas’s first wife), making Cockburn the nephew of one of the most powerful individuals in Scotland at the time.
One of 9 siblings, with three sisters and 5 brothers. His brother was John Cockburn FRSE (d.1862) was a wine merchant and founder of Cockburn’s of Leith. Henry married Elizabeth Macdowall and went on to have five daughters and six sons.
In the popular magazine of the day, the Edinburgh Review, he was described as: “rather below the middle height, firm, wiry and muscular, inured to active exercise of all kinds, a good swimmer, an accomplished skater, an intense lover of the fresh breezes of heaven.” He was immensely popular with his peers and respected by most who met him.
Cockburn’s interest in the City of his birth found numerous channels but it is one publication that it can be best seen. In 1849, he wrote A Letter to the Lord Provost on the Best Ways of Spoiling the Beauty of Edinburgh in which he outlined his concerns and his passions for Edinburgh. It is more of a campaigning pamphlet than book, within which he said, “Edinburgh is not exempt from the doom that makes everything spoilable.”
Image: National Galleries of Scotland